Lupus and Raynaud's
I remember it well — the first time I noticed the numb, painful, blue fingers on my hands.
I lived in the Las Vegas valley, which is known for warm temperatures. However, there were times it could get bitterly cold — at least to those of us who were accustomed to the warm desert climate. My son was a soccer player at the time and often had evening games. I never missed a single one, but the chill that came with those after sunset games was certainly a challenge.
After one particular game, upon our return to the warmth and safety of our vehicle, I was unable to comfortably turn the key and I couldn't feel the steering wheel.
My mom asked me, “What’s wrong with your fingers?” They were blue and ice cold. I had assumed it was simply due to the frigid temperature I wasn't used to; however, my mother’s fingers looked perfectly normal and did not have the icy chill that mine had.
As they began to warm up, the feeling of pins and needles was overwhelming. My newly discovered “color-changing fingers” were a mystery to me.
What Is Raynaud's Phenomenon?
Raynaud’s phenomenon was probably one of the earliest visual symptoms of lupus that I displayed. After that first experience, I noticed this phenomenon presenting itself more frequently.
It could be instigated by common situations such as being in an air-conditioned room or opening the refrigerator. The more I paid attention, the more I noticed. My fingers would first turn white, followed by the blue color that in many ways looked like death to me.
Eventually, after briskly rubbing my hands together, they would turn bright red as they finally returned to normal. As time went on, normal was not something I experienced very often.
My hands were always cold. People would often shudder when I touched them from the shock of the frozen sensation.
Before long, my toes began exhibiting the same icy cold condition. This became more difficult to deal with as my home was tiled, and I enjoyed going barefoot in the house most of the time but the new lupus toe pain was too much. It was annoying, and I did not understand what was going on, but I knew something had to change.
It was not difficult for my doctor to diagnose Raynaud's, as both my fingers and toes displayed the condition when sitting in the often chilly exam room. Raynaud’s (which is referred to as a disease, syndrome, or phenomenon depending on if it is primary or secondary in nature) is a response to cold temperatures or stressful situations.
Basically, it is caused by the narrowing of the smaller arteries that supply blood to the skin. This ‘vasospasm’ restricts blood flow and circulation to the affected areas — mostly fingers and toes, but the nose and ears can be affected as well.
Certainly this condition can vary in severity, and although not always debilitating, it can greatly affect quality of life. In extreme cases, blisters can accompany the condition and the possibility of losing fingers or toes due to amputation certainly exists. It is of the utmost importance that those who suffer from Raynaud’s take measures to treat and protect themselves from these outcomes.
My doctor has been adamant that I take precautions to improve my quality of life as this condition has not only been frequent, but quite disabling for me. Medically, my doctor has prescribed diltiazem, which is a calcium beta blocker that works by relaxing blood vessels, to help control Raynaud’s attacks.
Other medications and topical creams can also be prescribed; however, pharmaceutical treatment is not always necessary. Over the years, I have discovered a few remedies for dealing with an attack naturally as well as some easily incorporated ideas for limiting the frequency of the attacks or (hopefully) preventing them altogether.